Kapler brings unconventional style to Phillies
How players respond to new manager's philosophy is something to watch
PHILADELPHIA -- The 2018 season should be one of the most interesting Phillies campaigns in recent memory, but not because they are expected to compete for the World Series championship.
That is not the expectation.
It should be interesting because manager Gabe Kapler is interesting. He is unlike any previous skipper in team history because he might be the most unconventional.
• Phils' young core a focal point entering spring
Phils pitchers and catchers hold their first workout at Carpenter Complex in Clearwater, Fla., next Wednesday. MLB.com is asking all 30 teams: What will be the most exciting storyline in Spring Training?
That is easy: Kapler.
Kapler, 42, has a strong personality and a wide range of interests. He is steeped in analytics. How many other managers in the big leagues have written for Baseball Prospectus? Kapler is passionate about fitness and nutrition. How many other managers have had a lifestyle blog? He has hinted at turning traditional bullpen usage on its head. Kapler is confident he can keep everybody happy in a crowded outfield. He is a big believer in connecting with his players, which means one-on-one conversations, text messages and tweets.
Kapler has offered some glimpses into how things might work based on interviews since his hiring in late October, but Spring Training will be the first opportunity to truly see his personality and style in action. Will it be totally different than Spring Trainings past? Or are there really only so many new things a manager can do?
In other words, how different will life with Kapler be?
So far everybody from players to former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel have been impressed with Kapler's presence and communication skills. But how will players respond to Kapler in the coming weeks and months, if he challenges players to truly think differently?
• Spring Training info
"It's undoubtedly true that I believe that a bullpen and a roster and a lineup works best when players are feeling like flexibility is the way to go," Kapler said in December. "The mindset can and will be one of flexibility, and I am not married to any specific role because that isn't mental toughness. If I can only do one thing, that's not a very mentally tough way to start."
Kapler believes his players will respond quite well to his philosophies, whether the roster is full of inexperienced players trying to stick in the big leagues or a roster full of veterans with strong personalities like Pat Burrell, Jonathan Papelbon and Cliff Lee.
"By focusing on the environment," said Kapler in October, when asked how he achieves that goal. "We very infrequently ignore game strategy, but we will ignore building a healthy culture where people like coming to work. Whether that be young players or old players, everyone likes coming to work with people that they enjoy being around. Everyone likes coming to work and having the freedom to be who they are, and they're not going to be hammered down because they're not the version that you want them to be. The way we manage young players and veteran players is by creating great environments for them to develop in."